Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Living Social deals, they certainly are a gamble.  For me there are only two circumstances when a restaurant would use Living Social to drive their business.  The first is that the restaurant in question is an overlooked gem and they just want people to come in, see how great their eatery is and then tell their friends.  The second reason, which I fear is more common, is that the restaurant is not good and is currently in a tailspin of negative opinion caused by service and food issues.  The Living Social deal is then used as a defibrillator in the hope that a sudden influx of customers seeking a bargain meal will enjoy their experience and the business will rebound.  Even if that doesn't work at least the restaurant will look full and there will at least be some profits, however marginal, hitting the tills.  With this firmly in mind a Living Social deal was booked for Stock Restaurant along with our good friends Kate and Chris.

We had heard some lovely things of Stock from various Twitter buddies and I'd even spied a picture of Steve Coogan dining there, not only that but it had been bandied around in discussions about Manchester's most beautiful restaurant buildings.  Although everything was pointing to this to be a winner somehow it just hadn't made it on to 'the list' and it was only the bargain deal that tipped the scale.  It certainly is a beautiful building housed within the old Manchester Stock Exchange.  The domed ceiling is very impressive indeed when you first walk in, while we waited for our table for a few minutes we all just had a good gawp at it.  The whole restaurant has a very classic style to it and there seemed to be a good buzz of activity with smartly dressed waiters zipping here and there.  First minus point though was the absurd, giant fake flower in the middle of the table which perfectly obscured the entire face of the person sat opposite.

The next thing to hit us was the music which was being pumped out at a jarring volume.  Not only that but it was some of the weirdest music I'd ever heard piped in to a dining hall, the only thing I can compare it to is  music from a video game, particularly the early stages of some sort of adventure game.  Perhaps something that villagers would listen to as they collected their crops they had grown in their fantasy world.  For a very close approximation of what it sounded like just click here.

We ordered a bottle of wine which took quite some time to appear but when it was delivered by our waitress we discovered that she too had her own doubts about the quality of the restaurant.  She asked "Do you want to order your food now?", we all nodded politely and confirmed that yes we were ready to order which seemed to please the waitress as she said "good otherwise you'd be waiting another 20 minutes for me to come back".  Fair enough.  We got down to ordering only to find that all the fish specials were sold out.  I also tried to order the lamb rack.  Sold out.  This was Friday night at 8pm and a restaurant called Stock was out of stock of some of its major items.  Was this an underhand technique to ensure us lowly Living Social dealers did not receive the premium items from the menu or perhaps the fantasy villagers need to shift their attention from crop harvesting to hunting and fishing?  Either way this severely limited the menu for Jules and I had to rethink what I wanted and go for something I wasn't too fussed about.

Jules asked for the mussels with no pancetta but sadly this was delivered covered in a generous portion of pancetta.  It was sent back and did not reappear.  As we were finishing our starters our waitress noticed that Jules was still waiting for hers and enquired what had gone wrong, we let her know it had been sent back because it was wrong.  What was her diligent response?  An apology and assurance that she would nip off and sort it out?  Nope, she said "Now they can't even read!" and stormed off in the direction of the kitchen.  No apology.  Jules had to eat her mussels alone as we had finished ours by the time it reappeared.  They were also nothing to shout about.  Although the first plate had pancetta, it also had a decent portion of the sauce and cabbage which was distinctly missing from the second plate to be delivered.  They were OK but quite plain.

Apologies for crappy photo!
My tagliatelle carbonara was pretty good, nicely seasoned, well cooked pasta and not too heavy.  Better than Jamie's which I had eaten not too long ago but still not as good as many that I've eaten in old school trattorias.

Kate had selected the slightly wacky scallops and pineapple combo which was predictably weird but actually worked.  Chris on the other hand went for sardines of which 50% were good.  For some reason one of his sardines was delicious and the other was absolutely tasteless.

There was then a whacking great wait for the main courses, at least an hour but we were still having a good time so it didn't really bother us too much.  While we waited though I did hear the table next to us give the manager an absolute savaging over the quality of the food.  The gent in question was straight up refusing to pay for his meal as the quality was poor and he didn't believe the cut of meat he had received was as indicated on the menu.  The manager really didn't want to give any food away here but did relent in the end.  This did not bode well.

I'd gone for a lamb shank for my main.  As soon as I saw it I knew it looked a bit dry and tough.  My first impressions were correct as the meat fell off the bone in one piece and intended very much to stay in one piece, it took some dedicated effort to dissect the meat with the standard cutlery provided.  This is not what I want from a lamb shank and it was clear that this had been hanging around somewhere hot drying out for some time in the kitchen.  Any chef or waiter worth his salt would have been able to tell it was cack just by looking at it and it should never have left the kitchen.  The mash had a nice flavour but was really lumpy.  The best bit about the plate was the jus which was subtle but tasty, I would have killed for some fresh bread to get at that jus.  The presentation did not help as it just looked like a rosemary explosion.  This dish costs £18.95 on the menu, flabbergasted.

Jules had opted for the black risotto with crispy squid which she really enjoyed despite the slightly claggy risotto rice.  The dish was saved by the squid which was top notch and the crispy batter was a delight.  This plate too had been subjected to assault by herbs as it was obscured by raw greenery.

Kate had gone for the filet steak and requested it medium rare which she too enjoyed despite the fact that it was nowhere near medium rare, there wasn't one iota of pink to be seen.  So as a general comment every main dish was overcooked and they all arrived very late which leads me to believe that it was sat under a hot lamp for quite some time.  Again if anybody had cared to look at our food or inspect it to see if it was good to send out they would have quickly discovered it was not up to scratch but my general impression was that no one cared which is a shame as they did have some good flavours in their food.

There was then another big wait for the plates to be cleared.  Followed by another big wait for someone to come and provide dessert menus.  As we had been there for hours at this point and my confidence had been drained severely I ended up having to call someone over to get them.  It was at this point our Stock hating waitress was substituted for a lean, mean waiting machine.  He had both the demeanour and the general appearance of Jason Statham and from our first meeting everything about him told me that he was capable of the same level of uber violence as said action star.  His eyes never stopped darting around the room as if he was expecting at any moment a gang of heavily armed goons to crash through the windows indiscriminately firing sub machine guns here, there and everywhere.

I ordered the creme brulee and it seemed to come as a genuine surprise to Statham, in fact judging by his reaction I would say he had never even heard of it before.  Chris ordered tiramisu and it was the same deal, the waiter even asked to look at the menu so he could copy the spelling of the dessert down correctly.  Luckily it got easier from there as Kate went for the chocolate cake and Jules ordered the pavlova.  I have to say that his manner of dealing with us was so gruff we actually started laughing a bit although this was partly because it was so unbelievable and partly to diffuse the tension he was creating.  Once he had our order he consulted with the despondent waitress who then tried to approach us, he commanded her to stop any attempt to communicate with us by firmly saying (quite loudly) in his gruff manner "I've got this!".  Moments later Statham emerged from the kitchen nervously looking over his shoulder, perhaps he had just disembowelled a terrorist with a chef's paring knife.  He literally slung our desserts at us, mine actually skidded across the table away from me.  It was all teetering on the edge of resembling a Fawlty Towers episode.

We have a new camera phone now!
My creme brulee was not like any creme brulee I had encountered before.  There was a very thin layer of caramel served very cold and the custard below was in fact a very thick coffee mousse.  Pleasant enough but not quite what I expected.  The ginger cake it came with didn't work at all and was quite hard to break with teeth alone.

Jules' pavlovas looked very pretty but they too were almost impenetrable.  The caramelised bananas were not caramelised, they were just warm.  Once you managed to break the pavlovas down with a bit of jaw action they were quite tasty.

Kate really enjoyed her chocolate cake which was also quite tough but the ice cream was a stand out element.  Luckily Chris' tiramisu was easily penetrated, I would have been worried if it was tough, but it was just a pretty average tiramisu.  Getting out of the restaurant proved to be as difficult as the other elements of the service.  All the waiters and the manger had gathered at the exit of the restaurant despite the fact there were still a fair few tables in.  I had to try really hard to get someone's attention so that we could get our bill.

When the bill did arrive they had decided that they would automatically put a service charge on.  This was quite displeasing when you consider we were only a table of four and the service had been some of the worst I had ever experienced.  There was one thing about the bill that made me deliriously happy though, I hadn't paid full price.  At the price we paid I was disappointed and would not be returning but had still got plenty of laughs out of the crazy service, at full price I'd have been having a strong word with the manager just like my fellow guests had done earlier in the evening.  As we left I still would have loved to show my displeasure to the manager but he was too busy chatting with his waiting staff with his back to us at the door.  The dome had lost most of its grandeur now.

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